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Red fire ants are native to South America. However, as one of the most invasive species in the world, they have spread across the globe. They have established themselves in the United States, China, Australia, the Caribbean, and Mexico. Noted for their painful stings, red fire ants are scientifically known as Solenopsis invicta. These stings gave them the name “fire ants”. In rare cases, stings from these ants can cause an anaphylactic shock. Until recently, Europe had managed to evade this invasive species. However, recently scientists confirmed these species have been officially identified in the Italian region of Sicily. This is the first confirmed case of red fire ants’ presence in Europe.
According to the lead author of an article published in scientific journal Current Biology, these ants can spread incredibly quickly. This means that red fire ants could quickly spread across the European continent, flying on wind streams to facilitate a wider spread. The ants have also spread widely as a result of human activities including maritime trade and shipping of plants and plant products. Red fire ants can cause damage to crops, harm animals with their stings, disrupt ecosystems, and eat the eggs of reptiles and ground nesting birds.
Scientists have created a model that looks at fire ants’ potential spread throughout Europe. They have found that given current conditions, seven percent of Europe presents suitable conditions for red fire ants and may be vulnerable to colonization by them. 50 percent of Europe’s cities are vulnerable to fire ants. If red fire ants do establish themselves in Europe’s large cities, this may quicken their spread to other areas of the world as many of these cities have large seaports.
Since New Zealand is the only country that has successfully gotten rid of established fire ants, intervention efforts are being modeled after what was successful there. Additionally, researchers are using parts of the intervention strategy underway in China. These efforts include encouraging citizen science. Programs would encourage people to send in photos if they believe they have found a red fire ant nest. Scientists would then confirm whether the nest belongs to the correct species. Such efforts may play an important role in documenting and controlling these ants’ spread.
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